I know what you are thinking. “You defended Kanye??” See, readers, one of my biggest faults is that I defend things that are often very difficult to defend, sometimes even when they don’t want to be defended. This may be one of my best characteristics and greatest flaws, because sometimes there is no subtext, or a greater analysis, or a reason, or a structural cause, sometimes someone is just unforgivable, plain and simple.
We shall put Kanye West in that category. I defended Kanye for a long time because I really like his music and I felt he was self-deprecating enough that I could forgive him for his shortcomings when it came to gender, or at least look past them in the service of his greater contribution to hip hop. I made such an art out of my feminist hip-hop maintenance, strategically enjoying what I could in hip-hop, while ignoring or analyzing those pieces that didn’t serve me, while recognizing the very current role that the juxtaposition of race and gender play in how we consume images of black masculinity. But I think I got beat out at my own game and I started believing in things that were basically unbelievable.
Trigger warning and NSFW
Kanye’s representation of women is unbelievable and it is only getting worse. With the leak of his video “Monster,” he takes it to the next level, filling the screens with white dead model corpses and black female vampires, zombies and she-wolves. The imagery is violent, intentionally, after all the song is called “Monster.” Naima from Postbougie (by way of Racialicious) points out that we should not be surprised when violent lyrics are accompanied by visual violence. And I kind of loved this track when the album came out, but was mainly impressed by Nicki Minaj’s verse on it who is also the least offensive part of the video. While she might temporarily disrupt the fantasy world of hanging dead white girls, and grotesque, aggressive black women, it is only a moment, while everyone else on the track hangs their head in complicity.
I get that Kanye is calling himself a monster and I get that he is trying to be shocking, but I have great contention with this actually being a new frontier in music or art. What frustrates me most about Kanye is that he seeks (or rather hopes) to be avant-garde, artsy, cutting edge, something different and new. He hopes to be subtle in the way he characterizes women, obscured or carried by his almost seamless production. But his painful redundancy of woman hate and race politics is everything but subtle. Disturbing, violent or just overtly sexualized representations of women is the oldest trick in the hip hop book, but has taken on new flair and currency in his post-gangsta hip hop imagination. Sexist portrayals of women are the same only now they are “artistic”, post-modern, fractured, racialized and hauntingly disturbing, as opposed to just obviously disturbing or less nefarious and just a little bit annoying. Also, the strategic ways that these depictions are racialized have a historic resonance to them. He’s not transcending narratives of race and gender, he’s repeating them.
Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a world where women are dead models that hang from ceilings or are hybrid animal/human, white women are passive and/or dead, black women are aggressive woman-beasts. Kanye is revered, despite his self-hate and egomania, showing us not how edgy he is, but really his complete inability to truly evolve as an
artist (correction: as a person). If he really wants to take the scene by storm, he should treat women like humans, that’ll shock ‘em.